Date: Wednesday 29th January 2020
Venue: Riverside, Newcastle
Supports – Exploring Birdsong
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So with Januarys mammoth streak of four gigs in a row coming to end it was time to finish it off in style and what better way to do that then with a trip up north to Riverside in Newcastle to catch the indescribable Sleep Token. Alongside the headliners tonight also gave me a chance to see up and coming prog act Exploring Birdsong who have been filling every list of bands to watch in 2020. With three fantastic gigs in a row there was a lot of pressure on tonight’s gig to keep up with the theme but with a band of Sleep Token’s calibre there was no doubt that this one would be one to remember.
Before Sleep Token could take to the stage to begin their ritual it was time for Exploring Birdsong to open up the evening. With two additional vocalists, two keyboards, a bass guitar and drums it certainly made for a unique set up to look at on stage but as soon as the music started it was captivating and each piece worked perfectly in harmony. ‘The River’ was a huge standout with everything being spot on and Lynsey Ward’s vocals soaring above to hold everything together. I can’t talk about the track without mentioning bassist Jonny Knight who managed to play both the synth and bass at the same time during the song which was incredible to see. Unreleased track ‘Turntable’ sounded really intense as well and built nicely over the duration to leave an impact, definitely a track I want to hear again in the future. The band did give me a first when they had a breakdown in ‘The Sinking Question’ With only a keyboard and drums which was a weird concept but worked perfectly with the rest of the song and set. With only a single EP to their name so far now is definitely time to get on the Exploring Birdsong hype. As mentioned they have been filling everyone’s Bands of 2020 and after tonight’s performance it’s no surprise why as their unique sound made them very memorable. Definitely a great way to start the evening off and it built the mood perfectly for Sleep Token to take to the stage.
Usually between bands at a gig there are popular tacks played through the PA system to keep the crowd focused, tonight however Sleep Token tore up the rule book for the first of many times by opting for eerie echoes and background noises instead to build a real soundscape and prepare everyone for the next hour and a half of WORSHIP! Describing Sleep Token to others is always a challenge and with their own description being ‘Sleep Token are a masked, anonymous collective of musicians; united by their worship of an ancient deity crudely dubbed “Sleep”’ it’s no surprise that people struggle to explain what and who they are. Mixing in everything from slow piano tones all the way through to the almost Djent-like breakdowns and low guitar tones, the band really do sit in a category of their own. Tying everything together is lead vocalist Vessel who has arguably one of the most captivating and incredible voices that I have ever heard. Starting off tonight with ‘The Night Does Not Belong to God’ set the mood immediately and everyone in the crowd is silent watching on. The high ceilings and deep stage of Riverside really added to the effect that the band had created and with the large logo behind them it felt almost church-like, intentional or not it certainly worked to build the picture. After taking in the power of Vessel on his own the band then went straight into ‘The Offering’, a much heavier track that allowed the remaining members a chance to show off their ability. Not content on just standing still and playing both the bassist and guitarist flung themselves around the stage with purpose to really add even more energy in. The heavy tracking combined with the high clean vocals created a really enchanting juxtaposition and left the crowd in awe as the breakdown came crashing in.
With the mood well and truly set and everyone on board it was no surprise that ‘Levitate’ brought huge singalongs from the crowd with the chorus being sang in unison. Despite the slow pace of the track it really gave a feeling unlike any other with a real sense of purpose behind every word and note. The singalong continued not too long later with ‘Jaws’ appearing in the middle of the set. Now I may be biased given that it’s the song that originally hooked me onto Sleep Token back in 2018 but finally hearing this live was amazing and brought genuine tears to my eyes. Heading back into more recent ground the band then broke out a one- two of ‘Sugar’ into ‘Say That You Will’. Whilst both songs are completely different it worked perfectly to keep you guessing where the tracks were going to go next and with the almost EDM beats of ‘Sugar’ compared to the slow burn of ‘Say That You Will’ it really showed off just how versatile the members of Sleep Token really are. After the blast of older tracks in the form of ‘Jericho’ and ‘Nazareth’ it was time to head back to the recently released ‘Sundowning’ and for next track ‘Higher’. Starting off, much like all their other tracks, with just Vessel’s vocals over the piano tones, it wasn’t long before the band joined in and the track became what I can only describe as an epic. Building the track to its fever pitch and into break down at the end caused the head bangers amongst the crowd to develop into a full blow mosh pit as the cries of “The debt that I’m owed” came from the stage. A standout moment of a set that was very quickly drawing to an end with only older track ‘When the Bough Breaks’ to play before the band made their departure from the stage.
After a short break for everyone to try and comprehend what they had witnessed it was time for a brief two song encore to really finish the night off with a bang. The tracks chosen for the encore covered Sleep Token’s entire discography quite literally with ‘Thread The Needle’ being the first track form their first EP ‘One’ and ‘Blood Sport’ being the final track on the recently released ’Sundowning’. ‘Thread the Needle’ definitely kept the feeling from before the break and made use of the signature minimalist opening with just Vessel returning to the stage before the rest of the band joined in halfway through to kick things up a level or two. As the opening notes of final track ‘Blood Sport’ rang out the crowd used every last bit of energy to sing and move along with the track. As set closers go this was definitely the best way to do it as the ending crescendo lead beautifully to the band leaving the stage to thunderous applause from the crowd.
A lot of the time you see it written that gigs were next level, well this one was about three levels higher than anything I’ve experienced before. I know that five gigs into a year is a little early to call it but this will take a lot of beating for my gig of the year. Whilst Vessel’s vocals dominate most of the conversation when talking about this band, I feel it’s only right to draw attention to the other three musicians and the backup vocals as everyone played an incredible part in tonight’s performance. The bassist in particular needs to be brought up as they singlehandedly inspired me to pick mine back up after watching their mesmerising performance throughout. To close the review off with a brief sharp sentence. If you haven’t been introduced to the collective of Sleep Token then consider this your way into the ritual and welcome to one of the most exciting groups of 2020. With that said all that’s left to finish the review with it one word – WORSHIP!